The front page of the Sunday Des Moines Register depicted a caricature of the presidential candidates raking leaves. Herman Cain and Mitt Romney were featured prominently, and together, they garnered support of 45 percent in the Register’s latest Iowa Poll. Texas Congressman Ron Paul was clearly behind them. Paul finished third with 12 percent.
The subtitle below the artwork read, “After top trio, other candidates struggle to rake in votes.” It’s a good thing for them that it’s imposable for any candidate to “rake in votes” at this moment in the race. While the First-in-the-Nation caucuses loom large, they are still 63 days away.
A more appropriate graphic may have been a rollercoaster. To date, the campaign leading up to the caucuses has been a wild ride. While Mitt Romney has been the most constant candidate in Iowa and national polls, we should not overlook the fact that four different candidates, or half of the entire Republican field, has led in Iowa.
Herman Cain leads the latest Iowa Poll with 23 percent.
Rick Perry led a late August Rasmussen Poll with 29 percent.
Mitt Romney led the June Iowa Poll with 23 percent.
Michele Bachmann led the June TIR/ Voter Consumer Research Poll with 25 percent.
While Cain and his supports are sure to savor his lead in Iowa, it would be a mistake for either him or Romney to believe that their strong standing in the poll validates their hands-off approach to Iowa. As Perry and Bachmann can attest, the ride to the top of the rollercoaster is an enjoyable one, but without any notice, the bottom can drop out from under you.
The internals of the Register poll suggest that Cain may be the next candidate to bottom out after riding high in Iowa. Cain enjoys wide support from born-again Christians and people who consider themselves very conservative on social issues. Cain’s contradictory statements on abortion and gay marriage will likely impact his ability to hold on to the significant support he has previously received from this critical group of voters on caucus night.
What the poll means to each candidate:
Herman Cain – 23 Percent:
Leading the Register’s Iowa Poll is a major accomplishment for Cain. It is likely that Cain will use the poll to validate his media focused campaign instead of a campaign that focuses on voter contact. Cain will also likely point to the poll’s finding to say that social conservatives are not bothered by his statements on abortion. Topping the poll will also give him a fundraising boost.
On Saturday, Politico reported that, in order to avoid further missteps, Cain plans to “dial back” his campaign and media appearances. Cain’s entire campaign has been built upon media attention, so it seems odd that he would willingly go into a shell.
More troubling is that he plans to limit campaign appearances. Cain has been in Iowa twice in the last week, his first trips to the state since the August 13th straw poll. Cain only spoke at one event, the Iowa Faith and Freedom forum. He also attended two football games and a large Republican gathering but made an odd decision not to speak there.
Cain’s strategy is odd, but it may not make much of a difference if he is destined to see a sudden drop in the polls like Perry and Bachmann witnessed. Instead, Cain would be wise try and capitalize on his sudden popularity by making himself more assessable to voters, not less.
Mitt Romney – 22 Percent:
Romney’s strong standing in Iowa polls is a blessing and a curse. It has become clear that Romney has solidified the support of about 20 percent of the caucus electorate without much effort at all. The problem that Romney faces is two fold. First, he is supported by over 20 percent in the poll, that number may be his ceiling. Second, as the caucuses draw near, it may be difficult for Romney to maintain his 20 percent if he doesn’t show the people who support him that he actually cares about earning or working for their vote.
In many respects, Cain’s and Romney’s standing in the poll is a result of the attention they have received nationally. Halloween is like Labor Day in a caucus campaign – it’s the time when voters begin to pay attention to the race. Right now, people are just checking in on the race via cable and local news. In the next 60 days, Iowa caucuses goers may want to be able to see the candidates in person, which is something that Cain and Romney are shying away from.
Ron Paul – 12 Percent:
The Register’s poll indicates to me that Paul is primed to have a very good finish on caucus night. The Register’s analysis seemed to be a little quick to write off Paul’s potential by claiming that he’s noting more than a 12 percent candidate. I can’t subscribe to that line of thinking. Paul is not only well organized, but it’s also important to note that he is currently polling ahead of every other candidate who is taking Iowa seriously. I look for him to get stronger and easily surpass the 15 percent threshold on caucus night.
Michele Bachmann – 8 Percent:
For Bachmann to win the Iowa Caucuses, she first needs to find a way to create some positive momentum for her campaign. After leading the TIR poll in June and winning the Ames Straw Poll, Bachmann has bottomed out and seems stuck in neutral. Regaining positive momentum is not impossible, but it’s going to be difficult. The Register poll showed that Bachmann was the candidate who people liked the least.
To put that in perspective, Bachmann had the highest favorability of the entire field in the TIR poll in June. In that poll, Gingrich had high negatives, but he has gained standing with Iowa Republicans though a series of strong debates while Bachmann has seen her support wane.
Newt Gingrich – 7 Percent:
Gingrich’s seven percent is somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, he continues to hold on to a decent amount of support in Iowa, but he’s not been able to move his poll number since June despite a recent uptick in buzz and attention for his debate performances. Gingrich is likely haunted by the perception that he can’t put together a credible campaign. If he can show Iowans that he’s capable of building a winning organization, Gingrich would likely being to climb in the polls leading up to the caucuses.
I can’t tell you how many people say positive things about Newt when asked, only to cast doubts on his chances because of his inability to build an actual campaign.
Rick Perry – 7 Percent:
People close to the Perry campaign like to describe their candidate’s drop in the polls as a market correction. That may be accurate, but just as is the case with Bachmann, regaining momentum may be the most difficult thing to do in politics. Perry does have one advantage over his completion- financial resources. Perry is now running ads in Iowa, but the quality and content is questionable.
The Register poll shows that Perry is struggling with social conservatives, a group of voters that Perry needs to reach out to. The longer he waits to go after the social conservative vote, the more difficult it will be to win them over and win the caucuses.
Rick Santorum – 5 Percent:
Santorum doesn’t seems to be able to get his campaign off of the ground, but the Register’s poll isn’t really a dose of bad news because he’s in a dead heat with the rest of the candidates who are actively campaigning in Iowa. If the Santorum campaign should take anything away from the poll, it’s this – the social conservative support that Cain has received is up for grabs, and he may be the best positioned to earn it.
Jon Huntsman – 1 Percent:
Huntsman is a non-factor in Iowa, but he desperately needs to limit any bump Romney may receive from a good finish in Iowa. Due to his own stubbornness, Huntman is only a spectator when it comes to the caucuses.
A Final Thought
The Register’s Iowa poll shows that Iowa is up for grabs. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed either said that they could be persuaded to support someone else or said that they currently don’t have a candidate that they support. That fact alone indicates that Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum are still very much in play in Iowa.
- Cain And Romney Tied For Lead In First-In-Nation Iowa Poll (businessinsider.com)
- The heat is off: Michele Bachmann’s Iowa polling numbers fall flat (shortformblog.tumblr.com)
- Cain, Romney Lead in Iowa (politicalwire.com)
- Iowa Poll: Cain, Romney top field ahead of caucuses (firstread.msnbc.msn.com)
- Iowa Poll: Cain, Romney Lead, Bachmann Fades, Perry Irrelevant (themoderatevoice.com)
- You: The Caucus: Cain and Romney Top Iowa Poll (thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Iowa Poll has Cain and Romney neck-and-neck, Bachmann far behind (csmonitor.com)
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